Traffic flow, public safety, water usage just some ideas for ‘smart cities’

by Kim Souza (ksouza@talkbusiness.net) 484 views 

Smart communities may seem like a million miles away, but elements of the smart city and connected communities concept are being tested across the country with technology partners like Cox Communications.

Derrick Calderon, director of smart communities at Cox2M, the connected asset services division of Cox Communications, spoke Tuesday (Oct. 22) at the Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit in Bentonville about the benefits and challenges for creating smart communities. Calderon was one of more than 40 speakers who conducted break-out sessions on Day 3 of the four-day conference.

He said Cox Communications is not the first name that comes to mind when people think smart communities, but he is trying to change that. Calderon, who is based in Phoenix, said the private company has annual revenues in excess of $21 billion and employs more than 60,000 people across the U.S.

Calderon said Cox2M is working with the parking division at the city of Las Vegas using technology to speed up the flow of traffic with smart curb space. He said curbside along the front and side of the Fremont Hotel & Casino, where crowd-sourced rideshare loading and unloading take place, is streamlined with Cox2M solutions. He said the traffic flow in the area was bottlenecking after shows and Cox2M installed a screen kiosk and camera sticks inside the zone that pick up the license plate information and displays on the screen to alert riders their driver has arrived. The user has three minutes to load and leave the area, or face fines from the city.

Calderon said before Cox installed artificial intelligence technology in the loading zone, the city was spending $60,000 per month to have officers work the traffic. He said Cox is paying for the installation costs by selling advertising on the backside of the screen.

He said smart cities happen when enough stakeholders in a region automate processes and create the Internet of Things (IoT) connections. In his role, Calderon works with cities and continues to have conversions around ways to incorporate smart-tech capabilities where Cox has the ability to help. He said the adoption of smart city solutions remains fragmented.

“Cities are focusing on solutions that will prepare future infrastructure in areas of communication, traffic, water and energy savings,” he said.

In a survey of U.S. cities, 34% intend to focus on next-generation networks like 5G. Calderon said 5G will require more infrastructure investments and he believes it is several years away. He said 23% of cities want to focus on traffic, parking and public safety applications with smart-city solutions.

He said the Phoenix Police department uses video analytics from data collected at intersections to capture vehicle images with a time stamp. He said when an Amber Alert occurs the city is able to scan the intersection data to try and locate the moving car. He said the car’s license plate and description are uploaded to highway billboards at the same time the city is tracking the movement of the vehicle.

The other areas where municipalities are focusing on smart-city foundations include water management. Cox found 21% of cities wanted to focus in this area, and just 3% were interested in focusing on other city services. He said water conservation is only going to become more critical in the coming years as the world’s population increases. He said smart sensor technology has the ability to allow water meters that can detect pressure and be turned off automatically if the pressure is too high.

Calderon said insurance companies are also interested in the technology application because water damage is the highest of the claims they pay out each year. He said if cities used meters equipped with the smart tech sensors the insurance companies could then analyze the risks ahead of an event and possibly even mitigate the occurrence of water damage. He said by comparing usage data, it is also easier to find leaks earlier.

“If cities had this technology sensors on water meters that insurance companies could access through sharing of data, they could also do a more accurate job of properly assessing the risks and charges to homeowners and business owners,” he added.

Calderon said Cox has learned a lot by working with cities. He said there are challenges to implementing smart-community technology in part because of concerns around privacy and liability issues of citizens. Calderon said Cox2M is preparing to co-create smart city solutions that solve the highest priority city needs and overcome barriers to adoption.

Aside from the smart curb project in Las Vegas, another project is the Innovation Center which will be announced in about 30 days. In this smart community, the work will be around water management and energy conservation. He said the project will get an upgrade of the old water infrastructure with innovative meters to save the city in costs, conserve water and improve customer experience. The city will also upgrade to new LED street lights and enhance with control capabilities to conserve energy, cut costs and deploy new networks. He said this was the most logical place to start because of the estimated savings.

When asked if any cities are using smart technology concepts to mitigate the risks of terrorism, he said improvements in video analytics are providing more detailed behavior insights that can be used in some areas. He said cities remain cautious in this area because of privacy concerns.

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